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Uganda Cranes: Was Micho the sole team issue?

Coach Milutin Micho Sredojevic

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On Thursday, the Federation of Uganda’s Football Association (FUFA) made the announcement of parting ways with former Cranes Head Coach Milutin Micho Sredojevic after a disappointing AFCON qualifying campaign that saw Uganda finish third in the group and miss out on qualification.

Uganda’s AFCON journey was a rollercoaster, starting with a significant loss to Algeria in 2022 and ending with a crucial victory against Niger. Despite their efforts, Coach Micho’s team fell short of qualification, finishing in third place with seven points, just one point behind the Taifa Stars, who secured the group runners-up spot with eight points. Algeria topped the group with an impressive sixteen points, while Niger finished last with two points.

“I want to thank Ugandans, you have been with us from the start of this tournament, it was bad luck because we did not qualify, but I thank the teams for putting up a good fight,” Uganda Cranes’ assistant captain said after the last game However, Micho’s appointment was not the only challenge. In 2021, after failing to qualify for the 2021 AFCON, Uganda’s FA decided to bring back Micho, who had previously guided Uganda Cranes to the 2017 AFCON after a long absence from the continental championship.

This move came after parting ways with former Cranes Chief Jonathan McKinstry. Hopes were high that Micho’s return would rejuvenate the team’s performance and bring back the success they had experienced in the 2017 and 2019 tournaments. Unfortunately, Micho’s return did not yield the expected results. The Uganda Cranes struggled in the recent AFCON qualification tournament, winning only two out of six games, putting their return to AFCON in jeopardy.

Critics have blamed both the Ugandan FA and Coach Micho, citing an outdated and defensive style of play that limited the team’s creativity and goal-scoring opportunities. Micho’s return in 2021 coincided with the retirement of several senior players such as Captain Denis Onyango, Assistant Captain Hassan Wasswa, midfielder Mike Azira, defender Godfrey Walusimbi, Tonny Mawejje, and Murushid Juuko among others who had served the national team for many years.

This transition period, coupled with disagreements between some players and the FA boss, led to the departure of key players who had been part of the 2016 AFCON qualification campaign. “We are a team in transition, and when you are a team in transition practically, you gradually introduce your boys to the highest level of football,” said Micho after the defeat to arch-rivals Tanzania back in March. FUFA President Moses Magogo too has often asked Uganda Cranes fanatics to be patient with the Coach citing the transition.

In the recent AFCON qualifiers, Uganda Cranes faced a significant challenge due to the lack of home advantage, which had played a crucial role in their previous qualification campaigns. In 2017 and 2019, they secured crucial points from home fixtures, which contributed to their qualification for AFCON. However, during the recent qualifiers, Uganda Cranes had only one opportunity to host their home game in Uganda, facing Niger at St. Mary’s Stadium in Kitende.

Unfortunately, CAF later declared the stadium unfit for continental games, forcing the Ugandan FA to seek alternative venues. They hosted Tanzania at the Suez Canal Authority Stadium in Egypt, resulting in a 1-0 loss. Expecting to use the renovated Namboole Stadium for their next clash against Algeria, FUFA was disappointed when the stadium failed to meet the June deadline. They had to request assistance from the Cameroon FA, who provided Japoma Stadium in Douala. Despite these challenges, Uganda still lost to Algeria 2-1.

FUFA President Moses Magogo acknowledged the difficulties faced in hosting games away from home, both in terms of cost and environmental disadvantage. “We had to make a bitter decision. No federation would wish to host games away from home because of the cost, because of the environmental disadvantage but we have no option,” Magogo said. However, there is hope on the horizon as the Minister of Education and Sports, Janet Museveni, has extended the deadline for the completion of Namboole Stadium’s renovation until November.

“During my recent visit to the Mandela National Stadium, I had the opportunity to evaluate the progression of the renovation works firsthand. The detailed status report I received illustrated that the updates are advancing in line with FIFA’s standards,” Minster Museveni said.

“In light of these significant undertakings, I have approved an extension for these intervention efforts, shifting the initial completion date from August 1st, 2023, to November 30th, 2023. This extension was granted upon request by the project’s main contractor, the UPDF Engineering Brigade. As we eagerly anticipate our next visit in November, we look forward to witnessing the fully revitalized stadium,” she added.

Looking ahead, former Uganda Cranes defender and captain Andy Mwesigwa suggests a comprehensive overhaul of the team. He recommends retaining only assistant Captain Khalid Aucho while prioritizing emerging talents, especially those from the Under 20 team that achieved success in the U-20 2021 African Cup of Nations in Mauritania.

Currently, Uganda Cranes is focused on the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers, with fixtures recently released. They will start with an away clash against Guinea, scheduled between November 13th to 21st, 2023. In Group G, Uganda will compete with Guinea, Algeria, Mozambique, Botswana, and Somalia for a spot in the next World Cup.

Navigating the World Cup qualifiers presents a formidable challenge, as only the group leader earns a ticket to the global spectacle. This is in contrast to the AFCON qualifiers, where both the group leader and the runner-up secure places on the continental stage. Despite the setbacks, FUFA President Moses Magogo remains committed to the ultimate goal of seeing Uganda Cranes qualify for the 2026 World Cup, jointly hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America.



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